I don’t know if Leopold Senghor is considered a great poet, but I find his poetry beautiful in itself and fascinating for a couple of reasons. Firstly the cultural melting pot comes through very strongly, with West African mixed with French mixed with American references. Secondly, I fins it very unusual and very praiseworthy that a politician at the highest level who was a successful head of state for his country in the post-independence period for about 20 years should reveal his humanity so openly through his poetry. This was certainly not a Mobutu or an Amin.
In this poem it is the African references which dominate, but North African rather than West African. We are invited to sing and dance with Tunisian dancing girls. The sounds, smells and sights of the dancers are all here; after reading the poem, we can shut our eyes and join the scene.
Léopold Sédar SENGHOR
Inspire-moi, Tanit la Tendre, Tanit la Tunisienne,
Quand je chante les Djerbiennes au rythme des tam-tams et tabalas.
Les voilà entrant dans la danse, vases sveltes, un vase sur la tête altière.
Les voilà longues lisses, les Djerbiennes à la tête d’or
Et les hauts dieux d’ébène pour rythmer leurs pas.
Les tam-tams dansent et les tabalas, les tam-tams sous les mains d’ébène dur.
Les voici de soie fine, les Djerbiennes, soyeuses et souples
Et déroulant rythmée leur fuite frissonnante, gracieuse.
Et montent les hosannahs dans la nuit bleue étoilée.
The danse takes place outside, under the starry night sky, perhaps in some oasis in the desert. Ebony hands make the drums ring out, and the long-legged girls, some carrying vases on their heads, dressed in silk and moving gracefully and sensuously fill the night with their dancing. Bewitching and powerful…
The Poetry Dude